Where to use it?

Prelims: Hellfire R9X Missile-Capacity development of defence sector

Mains Level: Strategic weapons and their usage, impacts etc.

Science Tech Art Culture | Mains Paper 3: Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology, Pharma Sector & Health Science

Why in news?

The US military used its ‘secret killer weapon’ the Hellfire R9X missile to kill Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri on the terrace of a safe house in Kabul.

What is the Hellfire R9X missile?

  • Suitably known in military processes as the AGM-114 R9X, the Hellfire R9X is a US-origin missile known to cause the lowest collateral damage while engaging particular targets.
  • Also known as the ‘Ninja Missile’, this weapon does not carry a warhead and instead deploys razor-sharp blades at the terminal step of its attack trajectory.
  • This enables it to break through even thick steel sheets and cut down the target using the kinetic energy of its propulsion without inducing any injury to the persons in the general surroundings or to the structure of the building.
  • The blades pop out of the missile and cut down the intended target without rendering huge damage to the surroundings which would be the matter with a missile carrying an explosive warhead.

Hellfire missiles becoming operational

  • The Hellfire 9RX missile is known to have been in operational service since 2017.
  • Regardless, its existence became public knowledge two years thereafter in 2019.
  • It is a variant of the authentic Hellfire missile family which is used in customary form with warheads and is traditionally used in helicopters, ground-based vehicles, and sometimes small ships and fast-moving crafts.
  • For years now, the Hellfire family of missiles, including the ‘Ninja Missile’, are armed on Combat Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones.

What is known about the other Hellfire missile variants?

  • Hellfire is basically an acronym for Heliborne, Laser, Fire and Forget Missile and it was designed in the US originally to target tanks from the Apache AH-64 attack helicopters.
  • Subsequently, the usage of these missiles spread to several other variants of helicopters and also land and sea-based systems and drones.
  • Designed and developed by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, the Hellfire missile has other variants such as ‘Longbow’ and ‘Romeo’ apart from the ‘Ninja’.

Way Forward

  • The reason behind the development of the Hellfire R9X missile was to minimize civilian deaths. 
  • Notably, the weapon was also developed to eliminate doubts regarding the structural stoutness of a building such as mud and thatch huts which terrorists usually use as a hideout.


The missile is designed in a way that it can shove more than 100 pounds of metal in order to kill its target, be it a car or building.